Country Report: China (February 2015)

An article by Zhong Feiteng in Waijiao pinglun describes China’s new Asian strategy. It observes that Europe has been the geopolitical center and Asia the periphery, and Great Britain and the United States have reigned as the leaders of the international system. With China and India rising, in the 21st century Asia is becoming the global geopolitical center, but this has caused the United States to advance its Indo-Pacific strategy to make its alliance system the core and to contain China. The article notes that the United States is facing real challenges in this effort: the power of its allies and partners in East Asia is declining; the geopolitical and economic center of Asia is shifting from the east to the center; and China is now in the process of regaining its position at the center of Asia. Based on its concept of “joint development,” with the strategy of “one belt, one road” at its core, China is actively advancing infrastructure construction across Asia with various objectives favorable to intra-Asian integration without pressing as a challenger with the geopolitical thinking of a hegemonic state.

Zhong explains that from 2008, as the relative decline of the West has been exposed by the global financial crisis, China has put forth new positions, e.g., a new Asian security outlook, while the United States has also done so, steeped in the traditional Western thinking on the geopolitical balancing of great powers. Zhong finds the US response to be that of a hegemon striving to prevent the rising power from taking its natural place. In these circumstances, China seeks to stabilize its rise and, both at home and abroad, prevent interference that would slow it. The central notion is joint development, extending China’s internal development experience to its neighbors, relying on infrastructure construction. This is put in the context of the US pivot or rebalancing, interpreted as classical geopolitical containment heavily reliant on naval power. Zhong points to the year 2011 as the time when the Indo-Pacific idea was spreading, following Australian emphasis on this term and Hillary Clinton’s use of it. Seeking to shift more of the burden to its allies and new partners, the Obama administration, readers are told, has been arousing alarm in Asian states toward China to combine forces to control the Indian Ocean. One goal attributed to the US-led coalition is to prevent China, India, and Russia from joining together, prioritizing drawing India closer for maritime security, but India views the Indo-Pacific concept differently. It seeks autonomy, does not want to be a US ally, and prefers stability in its foreign policy. Meanwhile, stressing the Indo-Pacific maritime theme, the United States seems to be overlooking changes in power within Asia, including the gradual decline of Northeast Asia, that are serving to boost what it fears: China’s centrality.

Zhong distinguishes imperialist from democratic notions of Asia from regionalist ones, finding more durability in the latter. He casts doubt on divisions between maritime and continental Asia, used to link the former to the geopolitical mission of the West. Instead, Zhong suggests that as the geo-economic center of China shifts; so too does that of Asia, especially as the weight of Japan keeps falling. Noting that some lump the rise of ASEAN, China, and India (ACI) together to depict this changing balance, Zhong objects to this as playing into the US-Japan Indo-Pacific maritime security strategy, although Zhong recognizes that ACI is replacing the US-Japan-ROK locus as one center of gravity. He asks if, given the defensive containment network being constructed in the Indo-Pacific, can the external foundation of rising Chinese power continue to be secure. In proposing a new type of major power relations, Xi Jinping is seeking to maintain an external environment favorable to peaceful development, but US trust in the concept has declined. With the Ukrainian situation and the Sino-Russian gas pipeline deal, the United States is gradually losing its ability to control geopolitics in Eurasia, and it is increasing its pressure on China. It has had success pressuring states not to join the AIIB, but not India. Shifting China’s development from the east to the center and west of the country and stressing joint development to the benefit of other countries, China is countering the Indo-Pacific strategy used against it. In response to efforts to split the region and interfere with China’s plans for regional integration, China has reinforced its economic centrality with initiatives in 2014. It emphasizes Asia, not the Asia-Pacific, in its new security proposals, while also accepting a Eurasian framework. Zhong recalls that India and China both lost their regional orders with the entry of the West and that Obama’s strategy aims to draw India into an effort to prevent China from regaining its, and to get Japan to choose the West over Asia and help to control China. Steeped in assumptions about increasing bipolarity and enduring contrasts of Chinese and Western historical logic, this article insists that China will become the center of Asia as US policies will fail.

In Guoji luntan No. 1, 2015, an article by Chen Xinming and Song Tianyang examines the Ukrainian situation in the context of the struggle between Russia and Europe. It argues that Russia has long been uneasy because an independent Ukraine has been looking to European integration as its path of development, and in contrast to prior presidents who wavered between the EU and Eurasian integration, economically opposed to each other, Ukraine’s decision to go with the EU represented a huge loss for Russia. This article conveys a worldview of a globe split into regions or spheres of influence, in which economics matter no less than security and culture, as leaders in the West strive to widen their reach, while Russia, similar to China, not only acts to resist them but becomes more insistent on demarcating its natural sphere. Seeing the essence of the Ukraine crisis as a mature economic order facing an emerging order, the article frames the conflict without concern for Ukraine’s sovereignty and in a manner consistent with the way the struggle over Asian regionalism is viewed.

The analysis is premised on the worldview that a civilizational clash is under way in which nations that choose a pro-West outlook are alienated from other civilizational centers. Russia, as China, is seen as an alternate center, which geographically as well as historically and culturally is reestablishing its regional leadership with economics in the forefront. If it loses the economic struggle, it will presumably also lose its hold over Ukraine in other ways too. Geo-economics is the foundation of geopolitics. The conflicts under way are zero-sum, decided by both the balance of forces within each state and the external balance of power. The article acknowledges that some think that Ukraine is seeking good relations with both camps or a balance, but looking at the experience of its past four presidents, it rejects this possibility. Also, it does not see leaning far to the West as the solution, pointing to the backlash against efforts to limit the use of the Russian language. In culture, as in economic development, Ukraine cannot break away from Russia, readers are told. Failed and contradictory policies led to a “color revolution,” The longstanding split between east and west Ukraine on cultural grounds is a factor. Rather than blaming Putin for aggression or finding fault with his disquiet over where Ukraine is heading, the article sees both foreign forces (with the United States on the EU side) striving to widen their spheres, and Ukraine a pawn in their struggle. The outcome seems predictable in this framework.

Economic, historical, cultural, and ethnic linkages with Ukraine are identified as advantageous, and the success of the Eurasian Union heavily depends on Ukraine’s participation. If cheap EU goods enter Ukraine, Russia will be obliged to take protectionist measures. The author argues that the United States is the biggest winner in the Ukrainian crisis, and it greatly weakened Russian-Ukrainian relations and made Putin’s Eurasian alliance program a failure. Concluding that developing countries are on the rise and countries in the West feel challenged and are trying to stand in their way, it makes no direct criticism of Putin’s actions.

In the December Waijiao pinglun, Xing Yue and Li Zhiyan wrote about the “Korean wave” as the centerpiece in the Korean government’s public diplomacy and cultural strategy toward China. It attributes the Korean wave’s success to cultural similarity between the two countries. Recognizing soft power as a new arena of international competition and culture as its core resource, the authors acknowledge the growing diversity of Korean cultural exports including music, food, clothing, and language, and ask how the Korean government succeeds in China. While some may view the Korean wave as spontaneous, the Korean government’s policies are of critical importance. They are traced back to the Asian financial crisis, when Koreans saw the value of stressing their cultural industry both for economic revival and to become a cultural great power, recognizing the limits of their material assets. From the start of the 2000s, priority was given to television dramas for export. The article traces the rising government budget for culture through 2014, building on successes that had been realized under each president and targeting additional objectives.

As China’s comprehensive power and influence in East Asia rose, Korea targeted it more with its public diplomacy, readers are told. The center of this was the Korean embassy, the targets were ordinary people—often young people—, and the detailed examples over many years reveal an increasingly active public diplomacy. Pointing to the increasingly positive feelings of Chinese toward Korea and trust between the two countries, the article finds that due to the cultural factor in 2010, according to research done by South Koreans, it was more popular than any other country in China, far exceeding levels for North Korea, Japan, and Russia. Explaining why this happened, it asserts that a precondition was stable Sino-ROK political relations—an important force influencing public diplomacy. There is no conflict in core interests, as the two sides have similar positions on many international and regional issues. Another favorable factor similarity in the two cultures, which, as in the case of the countries in the EU, is a strong foundation for public diplomacy. Confucianism is the core of Korean culture, which blends East and West, traditional and modern, and the article contends that cultural psychology, values, and logic are very similar, opening the way for a mass following of Chinese who embrace the Korean wave. (There is barely any mention of the presence of different political systems). Instead, the fact that the cultural exchange is perceived as equal increases Chinese receptivity, as opposed to cultural imperialism that arouses a sense of a cultural invasion. One sense that China has a cultural strategy to convince people in both countries that they are united by culture, breaking from the unacknowledged cultural clashes in the late 2000s and serving Xi Jinping’s “charm diplomacy.”

The article gives the impression that, however popular the Korean wave is in other countries, there is a far more significant effect in China. The majority of students from abroad in South Korea are from China. The people of the two countries are drawing closer. This has economic ramifications and depends on joint efforts by governments and society. The implication is that if the Chinese government felt that political relations became less favorable, the conditions for the Korean wave would change. No mention is made, however, of the cultural tension between the two sides in the Lee Myung-bak period, when Korean dramas touching on the Koguryo era and clashes over different claims to Confucianism were among the challenges to bilateral relations. It also avoids recognition of Korean views of Chinese political culture and how some Chinese warn about Western values in South Korea. Instead, left unsaid but apparently in the background is the image of China showcasing cultural ties as a means to separate Korean from the West, as it has been doing with historical themes to separate it from Japan and to establish that it is inherently within China’s sphere.

In January 2015, Bai Ruchun and Tang Yongliang contributed a piece to Guoji Luntan on the “Cool Japan” strategy and its impact. After the 3/11 disasters, there was doubt about the safety of Japanese products, leading to a decline in exports and visitors to the country. Along with many other troubles facing the country, this propelled the leadership to push the concept of “Cool Japan” to appeal to young people around the globe and foster a pro-Japan cultural psychology that would make Japan’s products more competitive and its lifestyle attractive. The concept dates from 2002, when it was used in the United States to refer to the already growing appeal of Japanese culture. Including in the broad concept manga, items of food and clothing, tourist destinations, and much more, the article describes how packaging a vibrant cultural industry became a national strategy. The 1990s was a time of an incipient, not yet mature strategy, and the 2000s a time of a narrow but expanding approach. In 2009, the Hatoyama cabinet was the first to embrace the concept, in 2011-2012 it gained new momentum, and the Abe cabinet decided to make it a driving force of economic growth through public relations to boost Japan’s appeal around the world. Thus, it became part of “Abeism” and an element in the effort to boost Japan’s soft power.

Assessing its success, Bai and Tang credit it with important significance in boosting economic development, visibly increasing patriotic consciousness through greater pride in Japanese culture, and stimulating a more active sense of identity serving national security. The article concludes that China has much to learn from Japan’s approach, since it trails way behind Western countries in the cultural industry and cultural exports and should strive to establish specialized organs as Japan has done.

In December, Bao Xiaqin and Huang Bei wrote in Guoji guancha about the security policy of the Abe cabinet toward Southeast Asia driven by the themes of “maritime security” and “China threat.” Against the backdrop of the rapid transformation in the East Asian security order and China’s rise, Japan has intensified security dialogues and military exchanges with Southeast Asian states, showcased by Abe’s visits to all ten states during his first year after returning to office. The article charges that the aim is for Japan to lead a new security order. Reviewing Japan’s postwar policies to this region, the article notes that, having lost its China market, Japan turned to this area, using reparations diplomacy and economic assistance to restore bilateral ties and open markets, but its rapid rise led to anti-Japan emotions or demonstrations. The Fukuda Doctrine answered with assurances that Japan is a peaceful country that is determined not to be a military great power, that heart-to-heart, trusting relations would be generated not only by political and economic ties, but also by social and cultural ties, and that relations would be equal rather than Japan grabbing resources and monopolizing markets as an “economic animal.” In place of the Fukuda Doctrine came the Hashimoto Doctrine in 1997, expanding dialogue beyond economics with a broad range of themes, including security: no longer were Japanese leaders recalling the history of invasions or pledging not to become a military great power; instead of ODA being at the center, there was talk of equal cooperation; and Japan was seeking to increase its voice and influence in regional security in the post Cold War period.

Entering the 21st century, Bao and Huang explained, China soon displaced Japan in influence, and Japanese became increasingly agitated. In the Koizumi years the two clashed over leadership in the East Asian community and the membership in the East Asian summit, as Japan strove to balance and counter China’s rising influence. Later, using territorial disputes in the South China Sea as a pretext, Japan announced the Abe Doctrine: jointly with Southeast Asian states, Japan would strive to spread universal values, including freedom, democracy, and fundamental human rights; Japan would join them in fully supporting freedom of navigation and open seas and welcoming the US rebalancing policy; Japan would cooperate in stimulating trade, investment, and various types of new networks; there would be joint moves with ASEAN to protect traditional Asian diversity and culture; and they would promote youth exchanges. In comparison to the Fukuda Doctrine, the new approach ignores Japan’s history, makes Southeast Asia an important link in values diplomacy aimed at containing China, and heightens consciousness of maritime security cooperation.

Putting Abe’s Southeast Asian policy in the context of security thinking, the article sees it as the manifestation of “proactive diplomacy for peace.” It highlights recent security dialogues with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore as well as ASEAN as a bloc. It points to joint exercises, training programs, visits by ships, arm sales, and economic assistance for maritime security as concrete developments. All of this is interfering with China’s relations in the region, treating this as expansionism. While economic ties are seen as an engine for Japan’s economic revitalization, they are also viewed as a means to closer security ties. The Philippines and Vietnam are viewed as the two core countries for fast-growing ties; Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia are secondary core countries for gradually tightening ties in maritime security; and the other states are peripheral countries with which security relations are only beginning. All of the above is described as an effort for Japan to become a political great power with a major military role and reemerge as the leader of East Asia. For Japan, Southeast Asia is second only to the United States, South Korea, and Australia. US leadership of the Asia-Pacific region has slipped since 2008, and it is calling on Japan to do more. Meanwhile, Japan is seeking more autonomy and less reliance on the United States for security, which is manifested in Abe’s Southeast Asian policies. Linking the East China and South China seas, Japan seeks to encircle China’s military buildup. The article acknowledges a desire in the region to use Japan to balance the influence of great powers and widespread public goodwill toward Japan, presenting Japan with its best opportunity for closer security ties in East Asia. Yet, it concludes that Japan’s prospects are limited. First, China’s economic, political, and cultural ties in Southeast Asia keep growing, minimizing the notion of a “China threat.” Second, Japan’s strategic “great leap forward” can produce a backlash, given lingering doubt about its history and widespread concern about reinterpreting the right of collective self-defense. The conclusion stresses what China should do: to isolate the anti-China groups and prevent a camp from coalescing, to deepen relations through the China-ASEAN community of destiny, the Maritime Silk Road, etc., to intensify diplomacy to reduce military misunderstandings, and foster a win-win, shared security concept. Citing Wang Yi’s August 9th speech on the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes, the authors see China adopting the right approach. Clearly, this is not a win-win approach with Japan, whose motives are vilified in this wide-ranging study.

In Xiandai guoji guanxi November 2014, Hu Jiping analyzed the barriers before Sino-Japanese relations could be stabilized. More than forty years after relations were normalized, the barriers are becoming more numerous and more difficult to overcome, Hu insists, finding historical and territorial problems the first layer and security and mutual trust to be the second layer—more fundamental in nature. Hu finds little understanding in Japan of China’s pledge of “peaceful development,” and points to China’s alarm at Abe’s push for the right of collective self-defense and the start of arms exports, noting that some are wondering whether the meaning of a “normal country” is to revive Japan’s militarism. Charging that Japan’s psychological attack on China for over 100 years from the 1894-1895 war has failed and Japan’s claim to be “Asia’s elder” (Yazhou laoda) is being challenged, Hu points to Japanese national character and pride suffering from loss of stature, particularly due to the fact that it is China that has overtaken Japan. When Abe asserts that Japan will not be relegated to a second-rate country, he seems to be reflecting on China’s rise. It will be difficult to stabilize bilateral relations given the long time needed for Japan’s psychological adjustment, the article observes, expressing doubt about ties since the essence of Japan’s diplomacy is to draw other states together in opposing China.

Another article in this issue of Xiandai guoji guanxi by Zhu Feng noted the negative consequences of the deterioration in Sino-Japanese relations. In the first half of 2014 Japanese investment in China fell 47 percent, bilateral trade declined 5 percent, and an unprecedented security crisis unfolded, which threatened to result in “politics cold, economics cold,” in contrast to the Koizumi era “politics cold, economics, hot.” It is the joint responsibility of both countries, Zhu warns, to prevent deeper emotional responses among their citizens as well as a military confrontation. Just criticizing Abe for his rightward drift is not likely to lead to an effective outcome. The answer is to gradually restore political contacts and find a way to avoid a military incident—the article preceded progress on both counts in November. Zhu calls on both sides to abandon the moral and principled high ground in order to find a way forward. Then he argues that the root of the deterioration in relations lies in differences in politics, the atmosphere of popular opinion, and changes in the regional security framework, which affected political psychology. Japan’s necessary response to China’s rise is to seek to be a great power, leading to naked balancing of China and angering China. If China continues every evening to show “war of resistance to Japan” sacred dramas on TV and views Japan through such antipathy without objectively analyzing changes in postwar Japan, then it will not be conscious of how to manage bilateral relations. At the same time, if Abe continues on his course, from constitutional revision to challenges to China’s politics and diplomacy, it will result in long-term enmity. To manage relations, Zhu calls on China to have both hard and soft strategies. While the former involves more of the same, the latter is a distinctive appeal to use Japanese public opinion and international society to turn against Abe’s rightward drift. Soft diplomacy is seen as a way of aligning China with forces suspicious of Abe’s actions rather than behaving in a manner that arouses those forces to blame China first.

Huang Dahui asks in the same Xiandai guoji guanxi why the Abe administration is in a rush to improve Sino-Japanese relations. Huang says that relations deteriorated as a result of Japan “stiffing” China on territorial and historical issues—and striving to encircle China—, but he notes the fact that Abe in the second half of 2014 warmed to improving relations with China and attracted the attention of international society, leading many to ask is he serious. Huang argues that Abe has pursued a public relations war internationally and spread the notion of a “China threat.” Abe’s “panoramic diplomacy” overlooked neighboring states in an effort to contain China and to avoid having Japan ignored in international society, readers are told, but he failed to realize the first objective while arousing concern in international society about Japan’s rightist drift. Sino-South Korean relations have been strengthening, and there is even concern that instead of the Sino-Japan-South Korean cooperative Northeast Asia framework, a Sino-US-South Korea cooperative arrangement is emerging and marginalizing Japan. Also, under the pressure of public opinion to resolve the abductions issue, Abe has relaxed some sanctions toward North Korea. He seeks to pressure China and South Korea through these overtures, but he has damaged the US-Japan-South Korean system for dealing with that country and has been forced to vacillate. His search for a breakthrough with Russia also led to a backlash, and under US pressure, Japan has backed away, while growing alarmed over improving Sino-Russian ties. Added to this is US pressure for Japan to improve relations with China, fearing that Japan will rattle the regional structure over territorial and historical questions. In spite of repeatedly asserting that he wants to invigorate the alliance, Abe has not had the desired positive response from the Obama administration, which, he knew, wanted him to have summits with Chinese and South Korean leaders at the APEC meetings. Thus, he has acted due to pressure.

The article divides Abe supporters into the security first faction supporting the US alliance and the faction that stresses history seeking independence from this ally. The former group, concerned about harm to the alliance, sought the APEC summits. Abe also seeks to use such meetings to split or at least limit Sino-Russian and Sino-South Korean relations and to reduce the pressure on Japan in 2015 during the 70th anniversary year. Yet, the conclusion is that Abe’s moves are temporary, as he builds toward changing the postwar system and buys time for the success of Abenomics on which public support rests, which then would make possible his other objectives.